Campus political activism

Be it the Berkeley protests of the 1960s or the U tuition-increase protests rallies that took place recently, college students have traditionally had an outspoken voice in political matters.

But despite the activism of those students who came before, today’s U students may not fully realize the extent to which politics affect their everyday lives.

Emily Justice, president of College Democrats, explains that the goal of her organization is to “raise awareness of what’s going on in the community and to help [students] understand how the government affects our everyday lives.”

Justice gives many examples of governmental involvement in a U student’s life, including taxes, tuition rates and even restrictions on partying. One of College Democrats’ objectives is to target the U’s fraternity and sorority communities. Justice explains that whenever the greek houses receive complaints from noisy neighbors, the city council and the mayor have a say as to the ordinances that will be imposed and what consequences, if any, will be applied.

The great thing about Democrats, Justice says, is their “emphasis on ordinary people.” She says Democrats believe in equal opportunities for all walks of life, and “they are mostly middle-class people who come from a diverse background.”

As far as prominent social issues are concerned, College Democrats are generally against the death penalty, pro-choice and pro-affirmative action, although there are some exceptions. What frustrates Justice the most about students is that “a lot of them don’t care about what’s going on in the world.”

She attributes this apathy to a divide between students and political leaders. She explains that students do not seem to relate to the “older, richer people in the Capitol,” and therefore, take on the attitude of “why bother?”

“What students don’t understand is that they can make a difference,” Justice said. This, and every year, College Democrats’ activities revolve around making a difference by getting involved in political campaigns for candidates who will fight for their causes and ideas. On the other side of the political spectrum are the College Republicans. David Busby, president of the group, focuses on four main things: informing people about what Republicans are, providing leadership experience and training, getting Republican candidates elected and involving students in community service.

Busby says that there is a big difference between Utah Republicans and other Republicans. Utah Republicans are moralistic and are more focused on maintaining the status quo, while moderate and liberal Republicans try to initiate change and work with Democrats to come up with moderate solutions to a problem.

College Republican members are not necessarily Utah Republicans, Busby says. That is “a misconception that students often have,” he said.

Like Justice, Busby says he feels that many students at the U either “don’t know what political party to support, or follow in the footsteps of their parents’ ideas.” Despite his conservative leanings, Busby is worried about the Republican hold on Utah. Due to the large percentage of Republicans holding high-ranking positions in the government, Busby calls Utah “a dangerous political environment and a stagnant society.”

Busby says that in order for a community to move forward, there must be a balance in office between two relatively opposing parties, and Utah, he claims, does not have this balance.

College Republicans, therefore, try to promote the campaigns of moderate Republicans who are willing to listen to opposing viewpoints and compromise to reach a solution.

Busby is satisfied with the relationship College Republicans have formed with College Democrats, citing events where both groups watch political conferences and programs on television. Busby says that there were more than 100 people at last year’s event, including both Republican and Democratic supporters. The Hinckley Institute of Politics is also playing a major role in getting students involved in politics by offering internship and volunteer programs to students, where academic credit may be received for participating in a campaign.

Dan Jones, associate interim director at the institute, stresses that “[students] bring energy that campaigns sorely need,” and encourages students to be “active citizens.”

Jones says he believes political apathy on the U campus is due in large part to students not having time to think about it, and is very worried that this seemingly minor problem might turn into something bigger.

“Students go to class and work. If they don’t make time [to be politically involved], I don’t know what will keep the system going,” Jones said.

The internship and volunteer program is most often utilized by political science majors, but is available to anyone interested in taking an active role in his or her government.

Jones says that students tend to complain a lot, but do not do anything about it.

“If you want your issues represented, you need to vote,” Jones said.

Groups like College Democrats and College Republicans give Jones some sort of hope that progress can be made within the student body. He compliments the groups, saying that “they can organize and become the leaders of the future.”

Despite their differences, both groups have one unifying purpose: to get students involved in politics.

According to the United States Census Bureau, only 36.1 percent of people aged 18 to 24 voted in the 2000 presidential elections. Jones, Busby and Justice all say they hope to increase that number, at least in Utah, for the upcoming Nov. 4 elections.

“Politics touch every aspect of your life…be politically active. Go vote!” Busby said.

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